age appropriate

For Mary, ’cause she asked. 

florida-florida-retired-old-sunny-demotivational-posters-1292814450

{image is a poster depicting 4 older adults on a beach. Text (sarcastically) reads: My parents didn’t want to move to Florida, but they turned sixty and that’s the law.}

By the time Katie was in fourth grade, she’d read five of the seven books in the Harry Potter series. She’d already begun to loop back through them, as she would continue to do for years to come (and still does – at last count, she estimates that she’s read the first book some thirty times).

The child always loved books. From the time she started to read, the summer before kindergarten, she devoured them like candy. She was the kid who walked into walls while reading, who HAD to have the next book in whatever series she was reading on the day it came out, who loved everything about words on a page.

In fourth grade, the kids were required to keep a reading journal. Katie’s biggest challenge was deciding which books to include. One day, she brought Harry Potter from home for free reading. Her teacher told her that she couldn’t read it because it wasn’t age appropriate.

Katie was confused. She told the teacher that she’d already read it. A number of times in fact. And loved it so much that she wanted to read it again. The teacher stood her ground. It wasn’t age appropriate, therefore she couldn’t read it.

Katie came home and told us the story. I told her that I would talk to the teacher.

I assumed there must have been a misunderstanding. The teacher had taken every opportunity at back to school night and class presentations to bemoan this group of kids’ general lack of interest in reading.

She stood her ground. It didn’t matter that the book was developmentally on target. It didn’t matter that it fostered a student’s love of reading. It didn’t matter that it would later segue into all different types of literature. All that mattered was that, from her perspective, it wasn’t age appropriate. End of non-existent discussion.

My dad is seventy-five years-old.

One might think that living alone would be out of the question. That it’s time to start pricing nursing homes and teaching him to play shuffleboard. Perhaps he should be moving to Florida, buying a scooter, and eating dinner at 4:45. After all, isn’t that what folks do at seventy-five?

It’s not what my dad does.

He maintains his house far (FAR) better than we do ours.

He is more independent and far (FAR) more capable than most 45 year-olds I know (your friendly neighborhood blog writer included.)

He’d get ludicrously competitive in shuffleboard. It wouldn’t end well.

He hates Florida, doesn’t need a scooter, and isn’t hungry at 4:45.

He takes his dogs to the park, sees friends, and takes well deserved pride in his home.

What we think seventy-five should look like has no bearing on what it does look like for him.

Brooke watches Sesame Street. And Peppa Pig. And Ni Hao, Kai-LAN. She loves Dora, is down right giddy over Blue’s Clues and has recently fallen head over heels into the world of My Little Pony.

She is twelve.

Most seventh graders have different interests. So we make them available to her too, and then we let her do what works for her.

She thrives on the predictability and consistent format in shows like Blue’s Clues and Dora. The lessons they teach have meaning for her; they are delivered in a way that makes sense to her. She finds comfort in the repetition, loves the bright colors, is able to relax with the clean simplicity of the sets and the slower pace of the stories.

She takes great joy in the things that she loves. A joy that Julia Bascom describes in her wondrous little book, The Obsessive Joy of Autism as follows:

It’s that the experience is so rich. It’s textured, vibrant, and layered. It exudes joy. It is a hug machine for my brain. It makes my heart pump faster and my mouth twitch back into a smile every few minutes. I feel like I’m sparkling. Every inch of me is totally engaged in and powered up by the obsession. Things are clear.

It is beautiful. It is perfect.

I flap a lot when I think about Glee or when I finish a sudoku puzzle. I make funny little sounds. I spin. I rock. I laugh. I am happy. Being autistic, to me, means a lot of different things, but one of the best things is that I can be so happy, so enraptured about things no one else understands and so wrapped up in my own joy that, not only does it not matter that no one else shares it, but it can become contagious.

I see all of that, every bit of it, when I watch Brooke watching Blue’s Clues and bouncing and squealing and filling the room with the overwhelming Happy that she finds in something that may not be age appropriate, but is absolutely, positively, perfectly Brooke appropriate.

And that’s it, isn’t it? Harry Potter was Katie appropriate. A vibrant, rich, independent life is Dad appropriate. And Blue’s Clues and all of the similar things she adores are Brooke appropriate.

“Age appropriate” is nothing but an arbitrary concept based on an even more arbitrary cross-section of random people’s interests at any given time. Individual people don’t even factor into the equation. I’d much rather concern myself with what’s person appropriate. Because we’re all different. We all have different needs and find joy and comfort and fulfillment in wildly different things.

Thank goodness.

15 thoughts on “age appropriate

  1. Hi Jess. In general, I agree. But I don’t entirely agree, because I think different challenges make a difference. My sis was adopted as a toddler following some traumatic experiences (and I’m posting here rather than on FB to respect her privacy). Her mental health issues as a teen dealing with this have manifested partly in behaviors that are “age-inappropriate”—and in both directions (younger and older). Her first therapist didn’t appreciate this, and consequently was actually really unhelpful.

    I’m not writing this because I think Katie’s teacher was right or that Brooke should watch whatever 12 year olds these days watch. I also agree that at best these ideas are aggregates of where most kids are, but can be way out of whack for any individual child. For Brooke, it would be foolish to see her joy in watching younger shows as a problem. For my sister, her age-inappropriate behaviors are important indicators of where she is in her mental health treatment. Coming from a family that struggles with mental illness, these standards can be helpful.

    Sometimes age-inappropriate is wrongly applied (I say as an adult who shares several of Katie’s fandoms unashamedly), and sometimes it’s a useful assessment tool, and from there it has to be determined whether it’s helping the person (a coping mechanism), or hindering their improvement. Just a few cents from a big sister (and daughter) whose family has a different set of challenges. Please pardon the length.

    Best wishes.

    • Autistic person here. Also familiar with trauma.

      I still think qualifications like “age-inappropriate” are unhelpful at best. You say they are indicators of where your sister is in her mental health treatment and it sounds like you’re probably right. But how are those indicators inappropriate? She’s been traumatized and working through that in a way I would consider completely appropriate if I were you.

      From your message I would surmise that you would want the underlying causes of these behavioural indicators to be treated, rather than suppressing “age-inappropriate” behaviours for their own sake. Yet, the latter is what happens all to often, and not just with autistic kids either.

      Which is all because of the harmful and detrimental idea that innocuous behavioural expressions of one’s neurological or mental configuration, whether related to autism, trauma or anything else, are somehow “inappropriate”. That sort of judgmentalism is what we need rid of.

  2. I love this! I am so tired of the “powers that be” telling us what our kids should be reading or watching. One of my God-daughters is 13 but reads on an above High School Senior level. If you put a book in her hands that is “age appropriate” for her, she probably read it several years ago. If she hasn’t, she would be bored with it now. Society has too many real problems than telling our kids that they can’t read something we have already deemed appropriate for them!

    • are you under the impression that if you sign it ‘miom’ i won’t know it’s you and you won’t lose a token? nice try.

  3. If not for the fact that my teacher had long since retired, I would ask if Katie and I had the same 4th grade teacher. I don’t remember this encounter, but my mother sure did–I went to school very excited to tell my teacher (whom I adored) that I had just read Jane Eyre. And apparently, she looked at me and said, “I would never recommend that book for a child of your age.”

    My mother said I was crestfallen. But you know what? I still love Jane Eyre (although very differently than I did at that age). And that same year, I went on to read Gone With the Wind and Green Dolphin Street, both of which would have inspired similar reactions from my teacher, I’m sure.

    The secret to getting kids to read is to encourage them to find and read books they like, whatever “level” those books may be. Good teachers know that. You know that. Katie and Brooke and your dad know that–and not just about books.

    All of you are a great team.

  4. Interesting that I am reading this as my nine-year-old granddaughter is watching a sprout show and wants yet another Baby Einstein toy. Gotta love her where she is. It is a pretty darned good place, less the anxiety.

  5. Yep, I get it. I totally agree. My girl loves MLP with a passion too. It’s not so popular here in the UK, but that hasn’t stopped her! 😊

  6. Yes, yes, and yes. My 11 year old is exactly the same (same taste in shows also). It’s frustrating when teachers or therapist tell me to not allow her to have access to something that isn’t “age-appropriate” when she obviously gets so much joy from it. Plus, for her it can be a reward for doing something that was extremely difficult (like letting her brother pick the show for 30 mins) If I’m exposing her to what is socially accepted as age appropriate, I don’t see the harm in letting her enjoy what she likes as well.

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